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Home Archive for category "Nuclear Weapons"

What Will a Trump Administration Mean for International Agreements with the United States?

Published on December 13, 2016        Author: 

On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. During the campaign, he spoke often about terminating landmark international agreements concluded by the Obama administration, including the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the normalization of relations with Cuba. Predicting what might actually happen in a Trump administration is difficult, because his statements as a private citizen, candidate and president-elect have been inconsistent. Should he wish to follow through on the campaign rhetoric to take immediate action on these issues, what can the president actually do unilaterally? Decisions to terminate these agreements raise questions under both international and domestic law. The United States is bound under international law when it becomes a party to an international agreement, and also has some limited obligations upon signature. Under US constitutional law, the presidency is at its most independent and powerful in dealing with foreign relations. While that power is not unlimited, soon-to-be President Trump could arguably fulfil all of those campaign promises without violating domestic or international law.

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

On 3 September 2016, the United States ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change which entered into force on 4 November 2016. The agreement was concluded under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) which was ratified by the United States in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. The Paris Agreement establishes no binding financial commitments or emissions targets. The states party are bound only to formulate and publish national plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to reduce the increase to 1.5°C. The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and its participation in the Paris Agreement was critical to bringing other states, particularly China, on board. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Trump Presidency and the Iran Nuclear Deal: Initial Thoughts

Published on November 17, 2016        Author: 

Well it’s been a dramatic and, for many of us, soul searching week since last Tuesday’s presidential election in the U.S. resulting in Donald Trump being elected the next U.S. president. I’ll hold back on political editorializing in this space. We all have our views and there are other fora in which to express them.

Among the many issues that will be affected when Trump assumes the U.S. presidency in January is of course the Iran nuclear issue. Trump famously stated on the campaign trail: “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”  I don’t actually think this is his number one priority, but nevertheless a President Trump and his foreign policy team will most definitely not be the champions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been.

Of course this all comes as a shock to most of us who work in the nuclear nonproliferation area. I genuinely thought that the JCPOA would, under a Hillary Clinton presidency, perhaps not be as positively supported by the U.S. administration as it had been, but that nevertheless the U.S. would seek to keep its commitments under the deal.  And as a side note, I also thought that this meant I probably wouldn’t be writing that much more about the JCPOA, and I welcomed that.

But now we are faced with a new reality and a lot of uncertainty about specifically how President Trump and his foreign policy team will treat the JCPOA, as well as whether Republicans in Congress will now – with Trump as president and willing to sign it into law – be successful in imposing new economic sanctions on Iran through statute.

I thought I would just offer a few initial observations and thoughts about the various questions that we now face relative to the JCPOA:

Read the rest of this entry…

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How the Awareness Criterion for Establishment of Dispute is Antithetical to Judicial Economy

Published on November 10, 2016        Author: 

The International Court of Justice recently in the case concerning the Negotiations relating to Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament ruled that it lacked the necessary jurisdiction, due to the absence of a ‘legal dispute’ between the parties. The Republic of Marshall Islands had sued the nuclear world powers (the application was admitted only against the UK, India and Pakistan) for non-compliance with the treaty obligation and customary law obligation to pursue in good faith, and bring to a conclusion, negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament and cessation of the nuclear arm race at an early date. It is the first time in the history of the ICJ that it has refused jurisdiction on the grounds of the absence of a dispute, underlining a further move towards increasing formalism and positivism of the international court.

The court has defined legal dispute as “a disagreement on the point of law or fact, a conflict of legal views or of interests” between the contending parties. The Republic of Marshall Islands rooted the existence of a dispute between the parties in the “positive opposition” by the Respondent States in the present proceedings, and their engagement in a conduct of “quantities build-up” and “qualitative improvement” of their nuclear arsenal.

However, to the dismay of much of the international community, the majority in this case adduced an additional subjective limb of the ‘awareness’ of the Respondent regarding the claims of the Applicant, holding it quintessential to establish a legal dispute between the parties. Paragraph 38 of the judgment states:

“a dispute exists when it is demonstrated, on the basis of the evidence, that the respondent was aware, or could not have been unaware, that its views were ‘positively opposed’ by the applicant”.

The introduction of the ‘awareness’ criterion for the establishment of a dispute not only goes against the jurisprudential constante of the Court to adjudicate the existence of a dispute on an objective basis, but also severely undermines judicial economy and sound administration of justice. The formalistic requirement of ‘awareness’ can be met by merely instituting a fresh application on the same grounds against the Respondent, who would then be aware of the dispute and contention of the Applicant as a result of the previous dismissed suit. Read the rest of this entry…

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Russia’s Unilateral Suspension of the 2013 Agreement on Nuclear Cooperation with the United States

Published on October 27, 2016        Author: 

Amidst the breaking-down of cooperation between the USA and Russia in addressing the war in Syria, the continuation of the Ukrainian crisis and the US charges against Russia for its alleged interference in the American Presidential elections, the sanction tit-for-tat between the two Powers continues. The most recent episode occurred during the first week of October, when the Russian Federation decided to suspend – and in one case terminate – various nuclear-related agreements between itself and the United States of America. Russia’s unilateral decisions raise several questions, notably with regard to the law of treaties; however it is Russia’s justification for suspending the 2013 Agreement on Cooperation in Nuclear and Energy Related Scientific Research and Development (hereafter the ‘2013 Agreement’) that caught my attention and on which I wish to comment. It so happens that the Kremlin justified the suspension as a countermeasure in response to the American sanctions against it.

The 2013 Agreement‘s aim is to provide a stable and reliable framework within which the USA and Russia can cooperate in fields of research and development regarding the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Because of the vague wording of the 2013 Agreement, it is difficult to determine what the exact obligations of the parties are and whether their fulfilment allows more leeway. Under these circumstances, one could consider Russia’s suspension as simply symbolic and another indication of the cooling of relations with the USA. Nevertheless, in a document published by the Russian State, the suspension is claimed to be a countermeasure against the sanctions adopted by the US, implying that Russia views its own action as wrongful. By invoking the magic word ‘countermeasures’, the Russian government is summoning a circumstance precluding wrongfulness. As is well known, in order for Russia to justifiably adopt such measures, the (main) condition that needs to be respected is the commission of a wrongful act by the United States against the Russia Federation. It follows that the legality of Russia’s suspension (or the preclusion of the wrongfulness of that act) would depend – in part – on the legality of the American sanctions that Russia is objecting to.

Russia claims that, as a result of the sanctions against it, the US is responsible for a ‘substantial violation of the terms of the [2013] Agreement’ and specifically Articles IV(3) and X(1). This breach would result from a letter sent in April 2014 by:

‘the US Department of Energy Bureau at the US Embassy in Moscow (…) announcing the suspension of nuclear energy cooperation in connection with the events in Ukraine’ and the subsequent cancellation of ‘bilateral meetings and events related to nuclear energy’.

Hence, the sanctions would have directly ‘affected the areas of cooperation under the Agreement’. In Russia’s view, the continuation of the US sanctions – which includes the violation of the Agreement – ‘requires the adoption of countermeasures in relation to the US’ (all the above quotes are taken from the Russian government decision). In another comment, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that ‘Russia will consider the possibility of reversing its decision to suspend the Agreement when the United States reaffirms its willingness to fully restore compliance with the Agreement’. Read the rest of this entry…

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Capitulation in The Hague: The Marshall Islands Cases

Published on October 10, 2016        Author: 

When questions around nuclear weapons are brought before the ICJ, we don’t expect easy answers – too far apart are the realities of power politics from any defensible conception of what the world ought to look like, and international law is caught in the middle. In the 1996 Advisory Opinion on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons, the Court gave this fundamental tension an expression, even if it came up with answers (or non-answers) that left many dissatisfied. In this week’s judgment in the cases brought by the Marshall Islands – on the obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament – it does not take up the challenge at all. It instead evades the problem, and hides its evasion behind a façade of formalist legal reasoning.

As Christian Tams has already sketched in his first reaction to the judgment on this blog, the cases were dismissed on the grounds that no ‘dispute’ existed between the Marshall Islands and the UK, India and Pakistan. This is novel not only because never before has an entire case been dismissed on these grounds by the ICJ, but also because it stretches the interpretation of a ‘dispute’ beyond previous understandings: a dispute now requires some form of ‘objective awareness’ of the respondent state prior to the filing of the case. It is true that the requirement of an existing dispute has gained greater relevance in recent years, has played a consequential role in a number of cases, and has taken on a somewhat wider meaning than in earlier jurisprudence. Read the rest of this entry…

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No Dispute About Nuclear Weapons?

Published on October 6, 2016        Author: 

On 5 October 2016, the ICJ rendered judgment in three cases brought by the Marshall Islands against nuclear weapons States (namely against India, Pakistan and the UK).

Notwithstanding differences in the respondents’ optional clause declarations, the three judgments are largely identical. In all three of them, the Court decided that it did not have jurisdiction and thus could not proceed to the merits of the claims. As a consequence, the Court will not assess the substance of the Marshall Islands ‘nuclear zero’ cases – launched with significant NGO support in 2014 and meant to put pressure on nuclear weapons States to take seriously their duty to negotiate towards disarmament under Article VI of the NPT.

In this first reaction, I do not mean to comment on the outcome, but rather offer a few thoughts on the reasoning of yesterday’s judgments. This reasoning is technical, but – at least for international lawyers working in the field of dispute settlement – quite significant. To be sure, jurisdictional ‘defeats’ are quite common in optional clause proceedings before the ICJ. However, yesterday’s judgments stand out for two reasons: first, they were carried by very narrow majorities; and second, the narrow majorities were based on an unusual ground, a ‘first’ in fact: they held that there was no ‘dispute’ between the Marshall Islands and the respective respondents.  A brief word on each of these two points: Read the rest of this entry…

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Whose Security is it Anyway? Towards a Treaty Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Published on May 31, 2016        Author: 

On Friday, 13 May 2016, the UN’s Open Ended Working Group (OEWG), convened pursuant to UNGA resolution 70/33 (7 Dec 2015) and mandated, inter alia, to “substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that would need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons”, closed its second session with a majority of states calling for negotiations of a legally binding instrument (or instruments) to prohibit nuclear weapons to start in 2017.

Although (or perhaps because) the nuclear-armed states have chosen not to play ball, for the first time in decades, a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons is a real possibility. The OEWG, which will meet for a third time in August to agree on recommendations to the UNGA, and the ensuing tug-of-war in the UNGA’s First Committee in October, offer an historic opportunity for multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations to take a big step forward. The reframing of nuclear disarmament as a humanitarian concern has been instrumental in generating strong momentum in support of negotiations. This post surveys some of the legal controversies that arose during the OEWG and explains why, from a humanitarian disarmament perspective, a treaty prohibition of nuclear weapons is both imperative and an effective disarmament measure, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states.

Open to all, the OEWG’s May session has been attended by 100 states, as well as international organizations and civil society representatives, including survivors of the atomic bombings. None of the nuclear-armed states, i.e. the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) recognized under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) –China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – nor the DPRK, India, Israel or Pakistan, participated, casting further doubt on the good faith performance of nuclear disarmament obligations by the respondents in the RMI cases pending before the ICJ.

There is general agreement that the ultimate objective is a world free of nuclear weapons. To that end, all states parties to the NPT (and arguably, all states) have a legal duty to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” pursuant to Art. VI, NPT and customary international law. Views diverge, however, on the pathways, means and urgency with which this goal should be attained. Read the rest of this entry…

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